Saturday, 30 December 2006
Just before dawn this morning, the Iraqi government hanged Saddam Hussein. They have put one killer to death, but at the same time they have potentially set Saddam up as a rallying cry for Sunnis in the ever more violent Iraqi Civil War. By executing Saddam, the Iraqi government is contributing to the violence that has characterized Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, a violence whose death rate far surpasses that of the Saddam Hussein years, violent as they were. The government by its actions is also declaring the kind of nation it intends to be, a government that uses violence not only in direct response to violence but also as a tool of domestic policy.
President Bush said of Saddam's execution, "Bringing Saddam Hussein to justice will not end the violence in Iraq, but it is an important milestone on Iraq's course to becoming a democracy that can govern, sustain, and defend itself." It is apparent that Bush believes that government sanctioned killing is an integral part of being a democracy, but he is wrong. Government sanctioned killing has been abandoned by all great modern democracies. Among the world's most economically and technologically advanced democracies, only the United States continues to execute captive prisoners. Capital punishment has been rejected by most of the world's countries, with only China and Iran rivaling the U.S. every year for the title of world leader in executing prisoners.
As an aficionado of church history, I find it both ironic and tragic that the nation that many of its citizens believe is the most Christian on the planet is one of the world leaders in executing its own prisoners, and its government was the most outspoken in calling for the execution of Saddam Hussein as well, in opposition to the Vatican, the E.U., and the U.N. Some Christians decry the decay of Christianity in modern Europe, but the ethos of Jesus, who instructed his disciples to love their enemies and who specifically rejected the lex talionis (an eye for an eye), is more apparent in European government attitudes toward the treatment of prisoners than in the supposedly more Christian U.S.
If Saddam's execution is a step toward democracy in Iraq, as President Bush believes, it is a step toward an outmoded, ultimately unstable form of democracy. While there is no reasonable doubt that Saddam was responsible for the deaths of thousands of people, his trial was a farce, with defense lawyers murdered and the presiding judge changed in order to find one who would rule as the government wanted. Another irony of the whole situation in Iraq is that Saddam Hussein was executed for killing people whom he blamed for attempting to assassinate him, and many people believe that one of Bush's motivations for targeting Saddam for overthrow even before 9/11 was Saddam's alleged attempt to assassinate Bush's father some years earlier. The "democracy" that exists in Iraq today is one based on violence, and the execution of Saddam Hussein is unlikely to end the violence there. On the contrary, the most likely result is more violence, perhaps spreading beyond the borders of Iraq, if Baathist threats are to be believed.
Many people today, particularly Kurds and Shiites, are rejoicing over the death of a tyrant, and one can understand their mood of jubilation, after their years of oppression under Saddam Hussein. Unfortunately, it is probable that all too soon dancing in the streets will turn into mourning in the streets as violence of one sort begets violence of another.